4 Best Ways to Avoid Burnout

3 min read
Evidence based
Psychiatrist and Sensa consultant dr. Monisha Vasa
By Monisha Vasa, MD Updated on 2024 Jan 22

Burnout. It’s something that many of us have experienced at some point in our lives. But when burnout becomes your natural state of being – there’s a problem.

Burning out can be caused by many things – overworking yourself, not taking enough time to rest, a lack of sleep, difficulty in personal or workplace relationships, and plenty more. 

So, without further ado, let’s get into how to avoid burnout altogether.

1. Recognize the warning signs

One of the most difficult things about burnout is that it impacts your self-awareness. When you’re stuck in it, you’re running purely on adrenaline, and the momentum feels so good that you end up adding more to your plate. But then – burnout hits, and it can take a long time to overcome. 

So, what are the signs you should keep an eye out for? 

  • Simple activities like going to the store feel overstimulating
  • You feel overwhelmed to the point that you start to ignore or neglect activities you know are good for you – things like alone time or exercise 
  • You’re saying “yes” even though you’re already at capacity
  • You find everyone and everything irritating
  • You’re all too familiar with “revenge bedtime procrastination” when you stubbornly stay up late because you didn’t get any time to yourself during the day.

We’re naturally inclined to ignore these signs – but they’re very important warning bells. 

2. Break the stress cycle

In the world we live in today, we operate at surge capacity most of the time as we are never able to complete the stress cycle. 

Imagine you’re stuck in traffic for hours – you’re not going to be able to immediately feel better when you walk through your front door – your body will still be stuck in that stress response. 

If you haven’t made it a habit to wind down and relax, you’ll continually produce the stress hormone cortisol. Eventually, all that accumulated stress will catch up to you, and you’ll crash.

Here are some ways to complete and break out of the stress cycle:

  • Cry
  • Take slow, deep breaths
  • Do a physical activity – anything from vacuuming the house to going for a run
  • Laugh
  • Hang out with friends
  • Do something creative, like writing or drawing
  • Engage in physical affection, ask a loved one for a hug

3. Draw and respect your own boundaries

I’ll let you in on a secret – no one is going to draw your lines for you. You may wonder, why don’t the people who care about me stop me from overdoing it? Often, it’s simply because they want you to succeed, and a big marker of success in modern life is ‘being busy.’

It takes courage to say no and stick to it without feeling guilty. The next time you’re on the brink of saying yes to something you’re not particularly excited about, pause and ask yourself:

  • If I say yes, what do I get from it?
  • If I do this, what will I not be able to do instead?
  • If I say no, what’s the worst thing that would happen?

Your capacity is going to be different from everyone else’s. Your friends, coworkers, and even partner may not share the same burnout triggers as you. 

For example, if you’re an introvert and your partner is an extrovert, they may see you in a slump and encourage you to schedule dinner with friends or go to a show. That’s what they would do to feel better. But that might be the exact opposite of what makes you feel better.

Burnout is your body and mind forcing you to pay attention to them. Avoiding and healing from it involves learning what your own innate pace of life is, and then inhabiting that pace.

4. Understand what type of burnout you’re headed toward.

Since “burnout” has become an umbrella term, it’s good to understand exactly what you’re feeling. This gives you the best chance to get the specific help you need. If you’re exhausted because you’re working super long hours, that has different implications than if you work part-time but find your role meaningless or boring.

The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) looks at three dimensions of burnout:

  1. Exhaustion: You feel constantly depleted.
  2. Cynicism: You feel detached from your job and the people around you.
  3. Ineffectiveness: You feel that you’re never able to do a good enough job.

The MBI is often misinterpreted – people tend to focus solely on the exhaustion dimension. To help you better understand what you’re feeling, take our quiz below to find out what kind of burnout you’re struggling with or heading towards.

Psychiatrist and Sensa consultant dr. Monisha Vasa

Dr. Monisha Vasa is a board-certified psychiatrist and wellness consultant with a thriving private practice in Newport Beach, California. She’s actively engaged in supporting physician mental health at UC Irvine and City of Hope National Cancer Center.